By Matt Simeone
Mark Green's story is like many you've heard before, but the ending may surprise you.
Green grew up in the Crenshaw neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles, widely known as a tough neighborhood with a lot of gang activity. At an early age, he recognized that he was a better athlete than most of the kids in his neighborhood.
By the time Mark entered high school, his heart was set on playing football. He ruled out basketball because he wasn't tall enough. He was also high school teammates with Basketball Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, so after sitting on the bench for a while he quickly realized it wasn't the sport for him. He also enjoyed baseball, but couldn't hit a curve ball.
Green received college offers from all the PAC 10 schools, but couldn't pass up the opportunity to go to Notre Dame.
"When you grow up in the conditions that I grew up in and Notre Dame offers an opportunity to get a degree and play football … you take it," Green said.
After excelling at Notre Dame, Green was selected in the fifth round of the 1989 NFL Draft by the Bears. He was excited to be drafted by the Bears after spending his undergraduate years in South Bend.
"I will never forget the day when Mike Ditka called me on the phone and asked me if I wanted to be a Chicago Bear," Green said.
Even though he grew up in Los Angeles, Green quickly gravitated toward Walter Payton as his favorite player. "I tried to emulate his running style, but there was only one Walter."
Green quickly made friends with the other players in his rookie class. The year he came into the league he was joined by Donnell Woolford, Trace Armstrong and Tom Waddle, among others.
Coming into the league, Green knew he had a lot to learn and one of his best teachers was fellow running back Neal Anderson. They had the same schedule, so they spent a lot of time together. Anderson was skilled and knowledgeable in many areas of life besides football, which helped Green adapt to his new life in the NFL.
"Neal determined he wanted to play for eight years and retire," Green recalled. "And he did just that."
Anderson preached to Green, "Get what you want from football and then get out."
After four seasons with the Bears, it was time for Green to transition off the field to life after football. He was prepared, so it made the move pretty smooth.
"I completed my undergraduate degree in three-and-a-half years, so by the time I retired from football I made enough contacts in the business world that I was hired after my first interview," Green said.
He prepared for his career after football by staying active in the community and he leveraged his Notre Dame alumni while keeping every business card from all the people he came in touch with over his four years in the NFL. Green didn't have e-mail at the time, so he sent a handwritten thank you note to people who he met and made an impact on him. Keeping himself engaged with influential people made his transition easier.
Green's first job out of football was corporate sales for Ameritech. After three years, he moved on to a large firm in Chicago performing executive searches. He also decided to go back to school and get his MBA, which really helped his career take off to a whole new level.
"My education and experience in managing transitioned into a practitioner role in workplace diversity and inclusion," Green said.
Since 2000, Green has been in various leadership roles in the diversity and inclusion field with companies like Grainger, Miller Brewing Company and currently in his role as Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion at AbbVie. At AbbVie, Green enjoys leading initiatives and programs. His job is continually changing and the work is a combination of influence, strategy, execution and most of all leading people.
Green is a great example of how players can make the most of their success on the field when the time comes to build a professional career after football. He encourages players transitioning away from football to stay involved in the community and keep a list of business contacts while they are still in the league. He also advises current players to go back and finish their college degree if they haven't already.
"I had a five-year pro football career, but I have a 45-year working career," Green said. "As athletes, if we put the same diligence in our education as we put into our preparation for the NFL combine, we would yield better transitions out of football."